MSc project; Manipulating the wheat microbiome with viruses at Københavns Universitet

Background: More than a third of all crop yields are lost to stress factors such as drought and disease. Innovative agricultural methods are therefore necessary to feed a growing population. Recently, we have begun to appreciate how the plant microbiome can protect their hosts and promote growth, but much research is needed on how to manipulate plant microbiomes. One possibility is to use bacteria-killing viruses (bacteriophages) to selectively suppress undesirable bacteria.


Aim: In this project, the student will attempt to kill targeted bacteria of the wheat leaf microbiome using bacteriophages. The student will grow wheat in a greenhouse and inoculate the wheat with synthetic bacterial communities with model bacterial pathogens. (S)he will then design bacteriophage cocktails to knock out the pathogens in planta. Treatment efficacy may be assessed using a cloned reporter gene, qPCR or by other methods.Depending on the student’s interests, this project may focus on basic research, or take on a more applied nature.


Importance: Plant microbiome manipulation is a promising and fast-moving field of research with huge potential and many unanswered questions. Are microbiome manipulations long-lasting? How effective are phages in planta and how are they best applied? What happens when plant microbiomes are transplanted? The student attempt to answer some of these questions in this project, providing an opportunity to publish their results in a scientific journal.


Techniques: Greenhouse work, DNA sequencing, cloning, (q)PCR, bioinformatics analysis, bioassays investigating antagonism, host range, and stability.


 Contact: Prof. Lars Hestbjerg Hansen (), Peter Dougherty ()


Relevant literature

  1. Buttimer, C., McAuliffe, O., Ross, R. P., Hill, C., O’Mahony, J., & Coffey, A. Bacteriophages and bacterial plant diseases.Frontiers in Microbiology8(2017).
  2. Forero-Junco, L. M., Alanin, K. W., Djurhuus, A. M., Kot, W., Gobbi, A., & Hansen, L. H. Viruses (2022). Viruses roam the wheat phyllosphere.
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